Erick Green, Markel Brown

Virginia Tech moves to 7-0 with upset of No. 15 Oklahoma State

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We love Oklahoma State here at CBT. We love the team’s grit, the soaring athleticism of LeBryan Nash and the ferocious dunking of Markel Brown. We’re waving the banner of Marcus Smart, who has lived up to his name and his pre-season billing as a fabulous freshman. We haven’t paid much attention to Virginia Tech, a team that fired long-time coach Seth Greenberg and hired relatively unknown James Johnson May 1 of this year. Top recruit Montrezl Harrell fled to Louisville shortly after, and the Hokies seemed to be in full-on rebuilding mode.

Now that Tech is 7-0 with an upset of a strong Oklahoma State team on their resume, is it time to take a second look?

Obviously. Rhetorical questions are so ten minutes ago.

The future does, indeed, still look somewhat shaky for Virginia Tech. The recruiting groundwork laid by Greenberg has been compromised. But Johnson has taken the leftovers and forged a team that could see some postseason play. Maybe not the Big Dance, but still.

The good news in Blacksburg starts with Erick Green. The senior guard stayed put, and has been spectacular for the Hokies. His 28 points against the Cowboys — a season high — included 57% shooting from behind the three-point line. Green can rebound, shoot, handle and pass, and he’s the heart of all the positivity that has clung to the Tech program this year.

Johnson was also able to keep his frontline strong, retaining redshirt junior Cadarian Raines (9.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and true junior Jarell Eddie (17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game) for his maiden voyage on the SS Hokie. 6’5″ sophomore guard Robert Brown is the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 12.7 per.

According to Kenpom.com, the Hokies are shooting very well (56.2 effective FG%) and controlling the ball. Defensive lapses may yet cost them in a rugged ACC, but for now, the glass is half-full.

James Johnson did the first job any coach has to do when taking over a new team: he retained as many players as he could. It’s nearly impossible to keep everyone in that situation, and Johnson lost some good ones, but he kept some underrated players who give the Hokies leadership and a burning will to win and prove the doubters wrong.

Now, he’s doing the second job a new coach must do: he’s put together the pieces he has, and figured out how to win with them. I was rather impressed when they moved to 6-0 by beating a pretty good Iowa team. Now that they’ve put down a ranked Okie State, I’m very impressed.

With new coach point one taken care of, and new coach point two in progress right now, Johnson is practically playing with house money. If he can keep this team happy and healthy during the upcoming ACC season, and give a good account in televised December games against West Virginia and BYU, he’ll be well on his way to getting a jump on new coach point number three: a dynamite recruiting season that will put his stamp on the program and build a solid future.

That makes him, and the Hokies, worthy of our attention this season.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons.¬†Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.